How To Effectively Manage and Engage Project Stakeholders (Checklist)

“What are the biggest mistakes project managers make when dealing with stakeholders—and how can they be avoided?”

Ask around, and answers will undoubtedly center around two major challenges:

  • Identifying who the stakeholders are.
  • Communicating with those stakeholders effectively.

Small-business project managers who don’t effectively engage with the right stakeholders will make stakeholders into roadblocks rather than partners on projects.

We spoke to experts Dave Wakeman, PMP and principal of Wakeman Consulting Group and Kiron Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP and Senior Manager for Practice and Governance for TD Canada Trust, to learn their methods for avoiding the common mistakes managers make with stakeholders.

Wakeman and Bondale are well-known voices in the industry—Wakeman writes monthly for Voices on Project Management on ProjectManagement.com, and Bondale is an active blogger and contributor at ProjectTimes.com.

With their insights, we created the following checklist of best practices for stakeholder management. Managers can use it as a template or modify it to fit their specific project and industry needs:

stakeholder management checklist

Download checklist

We’ll review each step in detail below and explain how project management (PM) software can benefit managers as they communicate and collaborate with stakeholders.

Identify Project Stakeholders

The first step in stakeholder management is identifying stakeholders and their claim to the project. This involves evaluating any person, department or organization that has a role in completing the project.

Project stakeholder roles can include the project sponsor and team, the sales department and even customers—any entity that is investing time and/or resources in the venture.

Identifying stakeholders involves the following actions:

Review expectations: Once you know your stakeholders, it’s important to evaluate their expectations, particularly how they’ll measure project success. This can vary drastically from one stakeholder to another.

For example, a project sponsor might commend a project that finishes on or under budget, while a sales team might measure success by deliverables that exceed customer expectations.

DAVE WAKEMAN

PMP AND PRINCIPAL, WAKEMAN CONSULTING GROUP

“Where you really get in trouble is when you don’t make any plan for how to handle stakeholders and start getting pulled in multiple directions almost immediately.”

A best practice for managing multiple stakeholder expectations is to communicate a common understanding of the project’s scope, resources and timeline prior to project execution. Include these parameters in the project plan and provide updates in subsequent communication.

Analyze level of influence and interest: It’s imperative that managers understand each stakeholder’s influence/power over the project and their level of interest in it. High influence/ high-interest stakeholders are the “key stakeholders.” It’s important to ensure that they stay engaged throughout the course of the project.

KIRON BONDALE

PMP, PMI-RMP AND SENIOR MANAGER FOR PRACTICE AND GOVERNANCE, TD CANADA TRUST

“Make sure you engage the stakeholders who will be impacted by or have impact over specific changes before you implement them.”

Often, this dynamic is depicted in a grid, with influence charted on the y-axis and interest on the x-axis.

Example analysis of stakeholder influence and interest:

Stakeholder influence and interest analysis quadrant

An understanding of this relationship forms the basis of effective stakeholder communication. According to Wakeman, this lets the manager know what information each stakeholder needs, which helps determine the best way to relay information to that person or group.

DAVE WAKEMAN

PMP AND PRINCIPAL, WAKEMAN CONSULTING GROUP

“If you aren’t careful, you give someone too much information, or too little, and confuse everyone involved.”

Bondale cautions managers to confirm assumptions about each stakeholder’s role in the project to avoid miscommunications down the line. This process helps inform the project change impact analysis (more on this later).

Develop Communication Strategies

Once managers have identified stakeholders and analyzed their respective roles in the project, it’s time to develop communication strategies. Bondale says that one of the biggest mistakes a manager can make is using a one-size-fits-all approach when communicating with stakeholders.

Here are the actions involved in making a stakeholder-specific communication strategy:

Determine the preferred method of communication: Stakeholders will prefer to communicate in various ways—some want a weekly summary email, others a daily phone call. The best way to determine each stakeholder’s preference is obvious: Meet with them and ask.

KIRON BONDALE

PMP, PMI-RMP AND SENIOR MANAGER, PRACTICE AND GOVERNANCE FOR TD CANADA TRUST

“Executive-level, high impact/influence stakeholders may require lots of personal contact whereas stakeholders that just need to be informed might be communicated with via e-mail updates.”

Wakeman notes that managers need to balance each stakeholder’s communication style with their level of influence. This ensures managers don’t spend too much time communicating with low-influence/low-interest stakeholders, while leaving key stakeholders in the dark.

Create a communication schedule: Wakeman advises setting up a communication schedule so managers stay engaged with stakeholders throughout the project. Facilitate stakeholder communication on a recurring basis—it is NOT a one-off task to be done at the beginning and end of a project.

Bondale agrees with Wakeman’s advice. He notes that managers should check in with and update stakeholders regularly. Assuming that a quiet stakeholder is a happy stakeholder is a common pitfall for managers.

DAVE WAKEMAN

PMP AND PRINCIPAL, WAKEMAN CONSULTING GROUP

“You want to set an expectation early on about what communications will look like and when or how your stakeholders can expect to receive these communications.”

Perform Risk/Change Impact Analysis

Analyzing each stakeholder’s impact on project objectives is closely tied to both their expectations and their level of influence/interest.

Unforeseen setbacks may prompt a stakeholder decision to extend the project’s budget or timeline to meet changing customer requirements. Understanding how each stakeholder defines project success, particularly among major influencers, can help managers overcome these obstacles.

To perform risk/change impact analysis, managers should take the following actions:

Identify advocates and potential adversaries: At this step, managers should evaluate which stakeholders are project advocates versus those who are project adversaries, i.e., who has the power to advance the project and who has the potential to impede progress.

Bondale advises looking at past projects that involved a similar set of stakeholders to identify issues related to those stakeholder groups. Based on this information, managers can brainstorm ways to best deal with potential issues in the new project.

KIRON BONDALE

PMP, PMI-RMP AND SENIOR MANAGER FOR PRACTICE AND GOVERNANCE, TD CANADA TRUST

“The risk of lower influence/impact stakeholders could be passively accepted if their impact can be absorbed without hurting the project’s objectives … if the cost of prevention exceeds the cost of doing nothing, then do nothing.”

Plan conflict resolution: Wakeman says that a good way to plan resolution strategies is to begin at the end and ask, “What is the outcome I’m looking for?”

Then, focus on all the milestones along the way and ask stakeholders what they think could go wrong.

This helps managers and stakeholders identify which risks should be monitored closely and which require less attention.

DAVE WAKEMAN

PMP AND PRINCIPAL, WAKEMAN CONSULTING GROUP

“The big deal risks, we manage more aggressively and monitor more closely. With the smaller deal things, we estimate in advance the likelihood of an occurrence and what we will need to fix the problem if it arises.”

Execute Plans, Evaluate Success

Once plans are in place, it’s on to project execution. Following these steps can put you on the best track for success:

Engage stakeholders: Remember, it’s better to overcommunicate than to assume that stakeholders are on the same page as you. Use your analysis of stakeholder influence/interest to achieve a good balance of interaction. Key stakeholders should be closely involved with business decisions, whereas other departments may require less involvement.

Gain feedback, refine approach: The biggest determining factors for effective stakeholder management are time and experience. Follow the steps laid out above and ask for feedback from stakeholders. This can help you refine and perfect your approach.

Benefits of Using PM Software for Stakeholder Engagement

There are several tools managers can use to communicate with stakeholders: email, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, etc. However, project management (PM) software offers several additional capabilities and benefits including:

Centralized workspace Stakeholders and managers can center the project around a common understanding of priorities, project schedules and budgets. Any updates are reflected in real time, so users stay on the same page.
Document management Create, edit and store documents in a central location. Users can collaborate easily, keep track of changes and ensure they are working in the most up-to-date version of a document.
Dashboards and reports Live dashboards and automated reports can be used to share project information and key metrics with stakeholders. This helps create a baseline that stakeholders and organizations can refer to when making future business decisions, such as which projects to fund.
Collaboration capabilities Team members can comment on tasks, calendars, discussion boards, etc., and users can stay up-to-date on changes with an activity feed and/or in-app or email notifications. Many PM platforms also contain chat functionality, providing team members another way to stay connected.
Searchable project database Store project information from ideation to completion. This creates a traceable record of the project life cycle. Users can look back and see why the decisions were made and who was involved.


Next Steps

Project stakeholder management is a key concern for many businesses, but there are many other challenges faced by small businesses.

At Software Advice, we offer resources that help you leverage technology to solve your unique business requirements. Here are some suggestions on how you can use our resources further:

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